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Behind thick strokes of cool dark grey in MD Tokon's set of four stormy canvases titled The light is coming (2020), glimmers of red, white, yellow, and blue shine through. They are among 22 works by nine Bangladeshi artists in Future of Hope: Creative Transmission During Pandemic (9 October 2020–31 January 2021), commissioned by the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation and presented on Ocula, which aims to inspire a sense of hope in times of uncertainty.

Mong Mong Sho, Songs of Covid-19 (2020). Watercolour on paper. 56 x 76 cm. Courtesy the artist and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

Organised by professor Syed Manzoorul Islam and artist Shishir Bhattacharjee, the exhibition departs from the ancient Greek myth of Pandora, who accidentally opened a box unleashing all evil, quickly closing it so that only hope remained.

Future of Hope casts light upon notions such as regeneration, togetherness, and of stillness, through media ranging from painting, drawing, sculpture, and embroidery, to imagine overcoming difficulty, on both a collective and individual level.

Md Tokon, The light is coming (2020). Acrylic on canvas. 183 x 569 cm. Courtesy the artist and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

Vancouver-based Kamrun Samadi brings together imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been printed on textiles and assembled in an embroidery titled Quilt of Hope (2020), reminiscent of those found in Bangladeshi homes. Juxtaposing these with colourful panels and the rainbow that gained popularity across the Europe and the U.S. as a symbol of hope through the pandemic, along with the phrase 'Everything will be alright'.

Kamrun Samadi, Quilt of Hope (2020). Fabric quilt. 96.5 x 127 cm. Courtesy the artist and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

In her intricate stone impressions printed on paper, New York-based Bipasha Hayat reminds viewers that the fight for justice is a long struggle.

Titled Casting my vote for Socrates' acquittal (2020), Hayat chiselled 221 stones to represent the 220 jurors who voted for Socrates' acquittal against the 280 that found him guilty, resulting in her being sentenced to death. Linking this to the earliest recorded pandemic in Athens in 430 BC, Hayat's meditative work is a manifestation of inner strength, advocating for human rights and justice through her 221 impressions.

Bipasha Hayat, Casting my vote for Socrates' acquittal (2020). Hand-pressed impression with chiselled stone and black acrylic paint on 221 pieces of 300gsm watercolour paper. Stone: 9 x 14 x 16 cm; Full artwork size: Variable; Each sheet: 22.68 x 15.24 cm. Courtesy the artist and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

While events of the past months have brought a sense of global togetherness, these same events have also brought social divisions and injustices to the surface. In his series of satirical sketches and video that come together under the title The Right to Relief (2020), Khagrachari-based Joydeb Roaja questions the integrity of relief aid. Seeing photos of relief distribution in Bangladesh on Facebook, Roaja observed that those giving relief looked to the cameras with 'smiles of victory' on their faces, while those receiving aid appear 'embarrassed and helpless'.

In response, the artist has created a video that captures a figure singing, a rice sack covering their face. As such, Roaja removes individuality from this donor-figure, imagining them as an object instead.

Joydeb Roaja, The Right to Relief (2020). Ink pen on paper. 100 x 75 cm. Courtesy the artist and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

With most of the artists in this exhibition currently based outside of Bangladesh, having worked together from their respective homes around the world to create these commissions, this exhibition also provides a reflection on dislocation, and experiences of solitude and anxiety that have surfaced in response to that.

In Existent Time and Anticipation (2020), Hlubaishu Chowdhuri worked with local children in the rural areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to craft a hanging ball constructed from leaves of varying shades, sticks, and other debris, to provide a sense of relief in the community from the anxiety wrought by the pandemic.

Hlubaishu Chowdhuri, Existent Time and Anticipation (2020). Natural elements, leaves, and clay. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the Artist and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

Vancouver-based Sujan Chowdhury responds to the anxiety of isolation through a birdcage motif in Wings of Hope (2020). Taking the form of a paper sculpture, a series of drawings capturing pandemic-related imagery are seen through the bars of the cage, enveloped by branches and leaves, while intricate paper wings stretched open either side of the cage suggest the possibility of setting free from imprisonment indoors.

Sujan Chowdhury, Wings of Hope (2020). Mixed media. 183 x 183 cm. Courtesy the artist and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

Yet in solitude there can also be stillness, and while the future may be predicated on loss—of human lives and of old modes of living—the present moment may offer opportunities of reflection and a coming to terms with how to move forward. Works that celebrate their immediate surroundings include Imtiaj Shohag's set of four paintings in wax and pigment on canvas, titled Espoir du Futur (2020), that look to his deserted Parisian surroundings—from the urban environment to surrounding nature.

Imtiaj Shohag, Espoir du Futur (2020). Hot wax, mineral, organic and metallic pigment (encaustic) on canvas mounted on panel. 60 x 80 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

References to nature also suggest the possibility of renewal, and the importance of working with nature instead of against it in order to move forward. In the paintings of Kunming-based Mong Mong Sho, Chinese watercolours bring together the artist's memories of the sea with the forest and sky.

In his painting Songs of Covid-19 (2020), a giant ship floats above a leafy backdrop, banana leaves echoing the shape of the ship's sales, sailing forward against a blue cloud-filled sky.—[O]

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